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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 1:00 am

PUHI — The University of Hawai‘i hosted a Community Forum at Kaua‘i Community College Monday with President M.R.C. Greenwood.

Joined by Vice President of Community Colleges John Norton, KCC Chancellor Helen Cox and Tom Shigemoto, UH Regent, Kaua‘i Representative, Greenwood opened the session by expressing confidence in university system continuing to receive funding from federal sources.

While many in the state are worrying about the impact of Sen. Dan Inouye’s death in December on federal funding sources, Greenwood expressed her confidence in maintaining that financial stream as much of the funding comes from competitive grants written by UH staff that will fund not only educator positions, but also fund support positions and equipment system-wide.

She also spoke to the fact that KCC has the largest enrollment in its history, with 1,512 students registered for fall classes (See ‘KCC opens spring semester on high note’).

Greenwood praised KCC’s staff and students for developing an affordable housing project from repurposing shipping containers.

She also addressed the Wai‘ale‘ale Project, which works with students who face various challenges. The project pays expenses for a student’s first year of classes. If they do well, it then covers the second year as well.

“It’s been a great investment,” Greenwood said.

Chancellor Cox spoke to securing state funding as part of United UH, which looks at performance funding by setting targets and benchmarks.

She said KCC is looking to increase lab supplies in the science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) area, repair and maintenance of the ceramics kiln, along with finding ways to increase the digital media program to alleviate a lengthy waitlist of students by creating more workstations.

“Every campus has different needs,” Greenwood said. “We give leaders flexibility to make the best use of funding.”

She added that UH is also looking at ways to “network” programs to better serve the students.

A growing interest, Greenwood said, is in agriculture. There is an increasing need for those students to also have business classes to sell what they have grown and this creates tension.  

“We have more interest in agriculture and farming from young people,” Greenwood said, “and we need to teach the business of agriculture to position us better in the market.”

Cox said KCC is pursuing federal funds to help in these endeavors.

The panel also addressed the issues of changing demographics of college students.

“I don’t want students leaving thinking they can’t get a world-class education here,” Greenwood said.

The UH system would like to increase the mixture of students, including adding to the number of international students to bring more understanding of what Hawai‘i has to offer, Greenwood added.

John Morton said that KCC is too small to offer more classes at the moment.

“We need to get to 2,000 students to add additional classes,” he said. “When you’re too small, there may be five students who can’t stay on campus who can no longer stay here.”

Even distance learning may not solve the problem, Greenwood said, as not every class is currently offered on a consistent schedule for students to always create an education plan.

Increasing the efficiency of size will allow the system to improve reliability of online resources, Greenwood said. One way to get more students on campus may come from offering housing solutions.

Cox said KCC is looking to create “sustainable hales” on campus as part of the solution of growth by appealing to the amazing destination and increasing the number of international students.

“We’re looking for private/public partnerships,” she said, adding that such an arrangement for on campus housing would be a great return on investment for a group that would run such a facility.

Morton said on campus housing is a real possibility for Kaua‘i.

“Get plenty land,” he said with a chuckle.

He went on to say that he envisions KCC offering more “Running Start” opportunities for high school students to take classes and build the number of core credits they have before going to college.

“We’d like to have students spend their senior year at KCC in a dual enrollment to not waste their senior year,” Morton said.

Cox said KCC has an early admit program allowing students as young as 16 to start taking classes.

The idea of nontraditional students resonates highly with Greenwood who addressed “community college rescue projects.”  

“This is the only country where you can get a second, third or fourth chance at education,” she said, adding that in an island economy, students need to be able to enter and reenter in a number of points.

She said that during her 20 years with the University of California, there was a constant struggle to develop a plan to help students move from one college to another. She plans to guide UH in this direction via technology if students find themselves needing to be on Maui one semester or Kaua‘i another semester.

“The more you can engage students and keep them on campus, the more of a benefit it is to students,” Morton said.

Greenwood said they are continuing to “build people from the inside,” and that the university continues searching for researchers to bring their programs to Hawai‘i.

She said the university just made its first hire in the Hawai‘i Innovation Pathway by hiring a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said an analysis on the return on investment by hiring such qualified faculty is more than 27 percent.

“They pay for themselves over and over,” Greenwood said.

In Hilo, 550 good paying jobs — more than two to three times more than the median — were created on the Hilo campus through research efforts at the pharmacy school there.

“If it wasn’t for research,” Greenwood said, “We couldn’t teach anybody.”

• Laurie Cicotello, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or business@thegardenisland.com

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